karaokegal (karaokegal) wrote,

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Biographical musings

I'm actually getting some reading done that isn't fanfic. This is exciting because aside from old New Yorkers, I haven't done a whole lot of non-fanfic reading in the past few years unless you count aside from books by Malcolm Gladwell, which is tantamount to reading New Yorker pieces.

This year, I managed to finish Bike Snob, which is still sort of a bunch of essays and diatribes about bike culture, but then I actually undertook to read an actual book. It's called
"Reach For The Top" and it's a biography of Lawrence Harvey.

That's this guy,

who I happen to adore in most of the movies I've seen with him, where he generally plays a bastard. British actor of the 50's/60's/70's. (Makes a guest appearance in my
Yuletide fic this year.) Father of Domino Harvey, in case you've seen the movie about her.


I was mostly interested in reading this book because I was away of Mr. Harvey's real-life homosexuality and was curious to see how that was handled in the book, especially since it was written by his sister-in-law. The answer is that he seems to have been completely bi-sexual, although at this point in the book, there's the implication that many/most of his gay relationships were done to further his career. Of course there's also the implication that this applies to a lot of his hetero relationships as well.

The part of the book I'm reading right now, deals with his affair with Hermione Baddely, who
I mostly know from Maude, where she played Mrs. Naugatuck. (I also have a tendency to mix her up with Hermione Gingold, but that's my stupidity.)

At the time they got together, Hermione was a successful actress in her 40's and Lawrence was
a struggling actor in his early 20's. He was fairly dependent on her, lived in her home, let her pay his bills and (according to the book, which is partially taken from Hermione's own memoirs) occasionally got drunk, went into jealous rages and beat the shit out of her.

There are some pretty graphic descriptions, including him beating her, driving cars at her, trying to strangle her etc. We're talking Chris Brown/Rhianna level stuff here. It's described pretty matter-of-factly, and what's kind of wigging me out, is that the narrative voice of the biography doesn't seem to have any moral opinion on it.

Which raises the question of whether it should or not. Mind you, it's a piece of biography, reporting the facts, not a novel or a fanfiction. As I mentioned, it's written by Harvey's sister-in-law, so maybe for that reason, she's unwilling to take a side? There are some passages that if they appeared in a fanfic, or for that matter anything that was fangirl fodder these days would create an UPROAR.

Apparently, Hermione, woman of her time, tended to put it down to his "passionate nature" and "Slavonic temperment." (He was actually Lithuanian.)

I direct your attention to the following passage. Seriously, if you're triggery, this is really the time to back-button out of here. Keep in mind that while this happened in the 50's, the biography was published in 2003.

This follows a description of Lawrence trying to strangle Hermione for throwing a bunch of his expensive suits out a window.

Harvey spent the next day feeling full of remorse, pleading that she did not understand what love was, that he would go mad with jealousy.

Hermione was in the midst of making a movie. Her face was so swellen and bruised that the makeup man had his work cut out and in addition, she had to wear a veil. Her humor never deserted her, however. At a girl guides' rally some days later, she though her face had been well disguised until a fellow actor whispered that some of his boyfriends knocked him about too, but that he quite enjoyed it. She, it appears, did not enjoy this kind of treatment.

Perhaps, unwittingly or even deliberately, she egged him on to do violence. Perhaps she wanted this violence, wanted to be punished or abused, although this is no excuse for his actions. They were both artists, both unconventional, although this does not necessarily lead to physical abuse. But he had unbridled fits of violence when he was with her that were not repeated with any of his other women. Or at least there is no evidence of it.

Again, can you IMAGINE if this was a book or article about someone who most of the world still had an interest in? I still don't know whether this is the biographer trying to hard to stay neutral, or obliquely refusing to comdemn the subject of the book, but somehow blaming the victim as well. The author is of the same generation as the participants, so maybe it's a values dissonance issue?

For some reason, this particular part of the book has me flummoxed as to what I should think as a reader, as a Lawrence Harvey fan, as a woman, as someone who might someday wish to write biography etc.

Or have I just been over-sensitized by the current state of politics, fandom, gender studies, etc?

Your thoughts?

Tags: blog, book review, journal

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